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Beef Industry 35 year trends analysis

Project start date: 02 July 2017
Project end date: 18 June 2019
Publication date: 22 March 2021
Livestock species: Grain-fed Cattle, Grass-fed Cattle
Relevant regions: National
Download Report (0.6 MB)


This project involved an investigation of the environmental performance of the Australian beef herd using life cycle assessment model. In addition to assessing changes over a 35-year timeframe from 1980-2015, results from the whole time series were revised to reflect methodological improvements in impact assessment and herd inventory development.


The main objectives of this project were to quantify the following metrics of the Australian beef herd between the years 2010-11 and 2015-16:

  • change in greenhouse gas (GHG) intensity 
  • change in water use
  • change in stress-weighted water use 
  • change over time in energy use 
  • change over time in land occupation.

Impacts associated with the production of live export cattle, either through to the point of processing in the importing country, were also quantified. 

Key findings

In the period 2010-2015 it was found that:

  • carcase weights increased 10% driving an increase in beef production per cow joined
  • growth rates in young cattle were estimated to have increased 19% in the past 5 years principally in response to higher proportions of cattle fed in feedlots, and a 5% increase in feedlot days on feed since 2010, together with improved performance of the grazing herd
  • GHG emission intensity declined 8.3% (excl. land use and direct land use changed and declined 20% relative to 1980, from 15.8 kg CO2-e kg LW- 1 in the five years to 1985, to 12.6 kg CO2-e kg LW-1 in the five years to 2015
  • emissions from land use and direct land use change declined 93% and represented a small emission source for the industry when analysed using methods that comply with Australia's national inventory
  • energy demand was found to follow a non-uniform trend over the total analysis period, increasing from the five years to 1985 through to the five years to 2005 by 32% to a peak of 13.5 MJ kg LW-1, after which energy demand decreased to 10.8 MJ kg LW-1 in the five years to 2015
  • total freshwater consumption declined 14% to 486 L kg LW-1. This was 68% lower than the five years to 1985. Water stress decreased 61% over the 35-year analysis period, averaging 283 L H2O-e kg LW-1 in the five years to 2015. 

Substantial improvements in productivity via intensification and better management have led to lower environmental impacts and resource use in most instances, with ongoing improvements observed in the 5 years to 2015. This positive trend demonstrates ongoing industry change that has led to substantial declines in resource use and impacts over an extended period of time. 

Benefits to industry

This report enables industry communication and progress tracking of key environmental impact parameters for Australian beef production. The study is the most comprehensive of any undertaken in the Australian beef industry at the time of publication.

MLA action

MLA has published the report and used the data to inform future investment in research, development and adoption activities.

Future research

  • This study was developed using available datasets and analysis methods and a series of limitations were observed. A new method was applied in the study to determine the livestock inventory, which has a large bearing on herd productivity and the estimation of GHG emissions and drinking water.
  • Further investigation of herd inventories and performance is required to confirm these estimates, or to develop a more robust and nationally agreed herd inventory and model.

More information

Contact email:
Primary researcher: Integrity Ag Services Pty Ltd